Prince William, the future King of England, will marry his long-time girlfriend, Kate Middleton on April 29. The couple will walk down the aisle — each step inevitably tracked by the global media — at Westminster Abbey, and royal watchers are already obsessing about every imaginable detail. Here's a concise comprehensive guide:
PART I: THE ENGAGEMENT, AND PRINCESS DIANA'S RING
Who is Kate Middleton?
Catherine Elizabeth "Kate" Middleton, a former classmate of William's at the University of St. Andrews, would be England's first college-educated queen. Although the 28-year-old has worked as a fashion buyer, she has been nicknamed "Waity Katie" by British tabloids for her supposed lack of ambition and willingness to wait for a proposal. She comes from a middle-class background, which marks her as a "commoner," but royals have been allowed to marry outside of aristocratic circles for some time. For example, Prince Edward, William's uncle, married PR executive Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999. (Watch the royal couple's first post-engagement interview.)
How did Prince William pop the question?
The prince got down on one knee during an October vacation trip to Kenya with Middleton. The royal heir — a qualified pilot — reportedly flew his future bride in a borrowed helicopter to a remote, "secluded lake on the slopes of Mount Kenya" to ask for her hand. "The moment, when it came, was magical," presumes Hello!. The Kenyan Tourist Board predicted a 10-percent bounce in bookings after news of the engagement.
Is the engagement ring suitably grand?
Indeed. It's the same ring that Prince Charles gave Princess Diana back in 1981. Designed by jeweler Garrards, the much-copied ring is made of 18-carat white gold, and features an oval sapphire surrounded by 14 diamonds. It is said to be worth around $45,000. The heirloom was actually bequeathed to William's brother Harry, who reportedly decided it should be worn on the finger of "the woman sitting next to the King." Shopping network QVC has produced a replica, which can be bought in the U.S. for as little as $34.50.
How is Britain preparing for the royal wedding?
Souvenir manufacturers are busily churning out commemorative mugs, plates, thimbles, coins, and playing cards. Despite a royal ban on certain products, several curious marketing schemes are in the works (Royal Rogaine, anyone?). Alas, the government's decision to make the day a public holiday — inspiring many Brits to plan a trip abroad, reports The Daily Telegraph — could ruin plans for the nationwide street parties that traditionally accompany royal weddings: "Many communities are shelving plans for outdoor get-togethers because of fears of low turnouts." Nevertheless, economists say the wedding could provide a $1 billion boost to the flagging British economy.
How are William and Kate dealing with the public's fascination?
By using technology, in large part. On March 2, the couple launched an official wedding website. The site looks like "a normal wedding site" but is "mostly an attempt to slake the thirst of the royal-wedding-mad public," says Noreen Malone at Slate. Hosted by Google, the site offers Flickr photos, YouTube videos, details about the nuptials — and will be the first place where details of Middleton's wedding dress will be revealed. The technology may be "modern but the content is defiantly retro," says Hadley Freeman in The Guardian. Updates about the wedding are also going out on the Clarence House twitter feed.
Is everyone in Britain overjoyed by the engagement?
No. Britain has its fair share of anti-monarchists, who are aghast at how much the event will cost taxpayers at a time when the government is imposing austere budget cuts on the nation. An Anglican bishop got into trouble last year for airing such views on his Facebook page. "I don't care about the royals," wrote the Bishop of Willesden, who has since been suspended. "They cost us an arm and a leg. As with most shallow celebrities, they will be set up to fail by the gutter press... I give the marriage seven years."
PART II: THE BIG DAY
Where and when will the wedding be held?
"Wills and Kate" will be married in Westminster Abbey, London, on April 29. The royal family has many links to the abbey — it was where William's grandmother was both married and crowned queen, and where his mother was laid to rest in 1997. The British government has announced the day will be a public holiday so that citizens can watch the royal couple exchange vows.
The great and good of British society, of course, along with a "handful" of heads of states. Celebrity invitees include David and Victoria Beckham, Elton John and his boyfriend David Furnish, and Madonna's ex-husband and film director Guy Ritchie, who is a distant relative of Middleton. The couple are also inviting no fewer than six exes (four of William's and two of Kate's). In keeping with William and Kate's wish to make the event a "people's wedding," they also invited the owner of a pub near Middleton's family home in Bucklebury, England — as well as the local butcher, mailman, and some area shop owners. Chan and Hash Shingadia, who run a convenience store, were "thrilled" to receive their invitation, and they say Kate "is always a good customer."
Who isn't invited?
Barack and Michelle Obama did not make the list, and neither did French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, didn't get an invitation. And Simon Cowell didn't make the cut either. "Britain's Mr. Mean will have to learn to live with rejection," says Glen Levy in TIME
What will happen on the day of the wedding?
Middleton will be driven to Westminster Abbey, past some of London's most famous sites — The Mall, the Horse Guards Parade, and the Houses of Parliament — in a private car. The Archbishop of Canterbury will marry the couple, who will ride from the Abbey to Buckingham Palace in a horse and carriage. They will then "enjoy a romantic kiss on the Buckingham Palace balcony" — just as William's parents did 30 years earlier. Americans wanting to tune in will "have to get up early," says Gabriel O'Rorke at ABC News. "The service will begin at 6 am ET."
And the reception?
Prince Charles will host a private dinner, followed by dancing, at Buckingham Palace on the evening of the wedding. Guests will "let loose and boogie down" to a selection of 1980s hits following a formal dinner, say insiders. Beatles legend Sir Paul McCartney has reportedly been asked to provide music for the shindig — though this is unlikely to be true, given that he has not been invited to the ceremony itself.
How much will it cost?
The ceremony alone will cost around £12 million ($18 million), and is being paid for by both the royal family and Middleton's parents — who are reportedly contributing a "five-figure sum" towards the total. Security and policing for the event will cost another £20 million ($30 million), and is being funded by British taxpayers.
Is 2011 significant?
Perhaps, say pundits. William's mother, Princess Diana, would have been 50 this year, and it would have been the 30th anniversary of her wedding to Prince Charles, notes royal biographer Katie Nicholl, quoted in Us Weekly. Others suggest the couple scheduled the wedding in 2011 to avoid an overlap with London's 2012 Olympics and Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, the 60th anniversary of the monarch's accession to the throne, another big 2012 event.
What will Middleton wear?
With less than a month to go before the wedding, both Kate's dress and its designer are still closely-guarded secrets. Rumor has it that Sarah Burton, from the House of Alexander McQueen, is the chosen couturier, though the fashion house denied the rumors. Other names include Bruce Oldfield, Alice Temperely and Phillipa Lepley. Perennial celebrity dress designer Vera Wang is considered an outside bet. The gown itself will likely be "something traditional, but with a modern twist," fashion director Peta Hunt told the Daily Mail. Hunt also forecasts hand-embroidery and lace, but nixes the prospect of Swarovski crystals. "One thing is certain," says Rosemary Black at the New York Daily News. "Whatever dress the future queen of England ultimately chooses, it’s sure to [instantly] encourage copycat creations...."
What will Middleton's official title be after the wedding?
Middleton will be known as Princess Catherine, though her official title is still unknown. "Though the only title Middleton will be legally entitled to is that of her husband," explains Allie Townsend at TIME, "it will be for the Queen to decide who gets what." If, as seems likely, William is made a Duke upon his marriage, Middleton will be a Duchess. But if or when William eventually accedes to the throne, she will become Queen Catherine — the sixth in the history of the British monarchy.
This article was originally published on November 17, and last updated on April 11.